I am on the verge of declaring the offense as better than it was last year. Consider this:
1. No Steve Smith, which is bad. But not as bad as everyone things. 750 yards and 5 TDs. That is 2nd or 3rd WR numbers.
2. No Jordan Gross, which is bad. But keep in mind that Gross was much better in 2013 in a simpler, easier offense and blocking scheme than he was in 2011 and 2012.
3. Jerricho Cotchery is a better #2 WR than Brandon LaFell was. This should not be debated. Some years Cotchery has not put up good stats due to injury or due to having better WRs in front of him and not getting playing time. But in the years that he has gotten playing time, meaning more than 8 starts, he has consistently put up 800 or more receiving yards. Last year he got 600 receiving yards in only 6 starts.
4. Jason Avant is also a better #2 than LaFell, and a better #3 than Ted Ginn, Jr. He has had at least 30 catches a year since 2008 playing behind a group of very good WRs and TEs.
5. Ed Dickson: sure, his stats do not wow you. But let us put them into context, shall we? Joe Flacco had 3900 passing yards last year. Does he put up those numbers throwing to Smith, LaFell, Ginn and Olsen? No way. He put up those yards throwing to Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, Dallas Clark, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Bernard Pierce, Tandon Doss and Ray Rice. That is 9 guys with more than 19 catches. The Panthers had 6 such players. 2 of them were Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams. The third was Ted Ginn, a guy who, let's say, Cam Newton made a lot of money.
Look at Dickson's 2011 stats. This was when Baltimore was running a different offense with a different coordinator. They ran the ball more (with Ray Rice and Ricky Williams combining for nearly 1800 yards on 399 carries). That year, Dickson had 54 catches for 528 yards and 5 TDs as arguably the 4th option in the passing game (behind Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and strangely enough Ray Rice). The 5th option was their other TE, Dennis Pitta, 40 catches for 405 yards.
So, it honestly looks like Dickson got caught in the numbers game with all the offensive talent in Baltimore. Talent of the sort that has not existed in Carolina for quite awhile. His biggest issue in 2012 was getting passed up by Dennis Pitta. No big deal there: Pitta is the better player. The Ravens chose Pitta over Dickson, giving him a $32 million deal.
But in Carolina, Dickson can be a real asset if paired with Olsen. It will give Newton a pair of big targets that can get open quickly and catch the football. From what I have seen of Dickson, he is a fast, quick, athletic receiving TE. He isn't special, which is why he could not stand out on a Baltimore team that had a ton of pass catchers, But in Carolina, if Shula is willing to play both Dickson and Olsen at the same time frequently, it is difficult to imagine how Dickson could not be at least as productive as Jeremy Shockey was in 2011: 37 catches for 455 yards.
Of course, the Panthers still need a starting RT. And they still need another WR. But thanks to this signing, it may be all they need, and they can fill those needs with the top 2 picks in the upcoming draft. I have to admit: Dixon was one of the guys that I felt the Panthers should make a run at this offseason if he was cheap, and it looks like Gettleman did exactly that. Look for Dixon to parlay his one season with the Panthers into a long term deal the same way that Ted Ginn did. Except hopefully that long term deal will be with the Panthers.
Yes, I know that I left Tiquan Underwood out of the analysis. Well put it this way: if Shula adapts to having two TEs that can catch (a major if) then Dickson's signing makes anything that the Panthers get from Underwood on offense as a bonus. Also, playing Dickson, Olsen and Underwood at the same time may help get Underwood open down the field if defenses collapse on the two TEs.